Archive for the 'UMBEL' Category

Volkswagen’s Use of structWSF in their Semantic Web Platform

TribalDDB London, Volkswagen UK‘s partner, mentioned earlier this week that Volkswagen are using some parts of the Open Semantic Framework to develop the next generation of their online platform.

This story has been published by Jennifer Zaino’s in her article: Volkswagen: Das Auto Company is Das Semantic Web Company!

I can now talk about this project that uses some pieces of the framework that we have been developing for more than 3 years now.

The Objective

Volkswagen’s main objective behind the development of the next version of their Web platform started by improving their online search engine, but as William Greenly mentioned, it quickly became a strategic decision:

"So the objectives were about site search and improving it, but in the long-run it was always the idea to contextualize content, to facet content, to promote it in different contexts."

The objective is to create a platform that gives them the flexibility to leverage all the data assets they own. This flexibility will help them to leverage the data assests they have to improve not only their search engine, but also to contextualize it in different parts of their websites, partner’s websites or to promote, and publish that same information on different communication channels or devices.

The Flexibility

What is a flexible platform in that context? A flexible platform is one that can integrate any kind of information sources. Such information sources in the context of Volkswagen can be a series of relational dataset schemas spread around the World, Excel spreadsheets, CSV files, old plain text technical documents about past model of cars, semi-structured documents such as webpages, etc.

A flexible platform is also one that minimally impact (if at all) the data consumers if the data structure changes in the system. This is really important since the World we live in constantly changes. This means that things constantly change and we have to reflect these changes in the data we own and maintain. This is why this point is so important, because we want to minimize the impact of the data structure changes that will happen all the time.

Having the flexibility to constantly adapt your data, while minimally impacting the data consumers of the system, enables you to make quick decision to adapt your strategy in a highly competitive World. This flexibility gives you a clear business advantage.

A flexible platform is also one that let you publish your data the way you want, in the format that is needed. Such a flexible platform has to give you access to an interface that give you access to all the functionalities of the platform without having to care about what happens under the hood.

A flexible system is one that can communicate your information on any kind of communication channels, and to any devices that have access to the Web.

Under the Hood

That next generation platform that Volkswagen is currently developing is partly based on a few of the main pieces of the Open Semantic Framework. These pieces help them to reach their goal by helping them giving the flexibility their platform needs.

The first step they gone thru was to create their Volkswagen Vehicles Ontology that is used to describe all the entities they want to index into their platform. The Web Ontology Language (OWL), along with the Resource Description Framework (RDF) is what gives them the complete flexibility on how they can integrate all the pieces of information they want, in a canonical format.

Then they choose to use structWSF (the structured data web services framework). This piece gives them the flexibility to get a series of web interfaces (web service endpoints) to create, update, manage and query their data. This web service layer enables them to do anything they want with their data, from anywhere on the Web. This is possible because all the functionalities of the framework are exposed as web service endpoints. StructWSF also gives them the possibility to communicate their data in multiple different formats. This makes it the perfect flexible system to feed their information in different contexts, in different communication channels or on different devices.

At Volkswagen, structWSF is used to populate, and keep in sync, their Solr and Triple Store instances. It gives them the time to care about the more important aspects of their platform, and to care about how the data should be synced between the various specialized data management systems.

By using structWSF to manage their data, they are able to reach some objectives to make their platform as flexible as possible:

  • To be able to minimize the impact of data changes to the data consumers
    • Because structWSF uses OWL & RDF to describe all the data it index
  • To be able to manipulate their data from anywhere
    • Because all the functionalities of structWSF are exposed as web service endpoints
  • To be able to communicate the information in different contexts, communication channels and devices
    • Because structWSF has, in its core, is designed to transform all the data it indexes in any other kind of format

The Next Step

One of their longer term goal and objective is to analyze their unstructured and semi-structured textual documents to extract some structure out of them, and to index them into their semantic platform. To do this, they are looking at using Scones, which is the structWSF semantic tagger web service endpoint. Scones will use some subject reference structures such as UMBEL to semantically tag the textual document. Once the document as been processed by Scones, and indexed in structWSF, it can now be re-published in different contexts based on the reference concepts that have been tagged to it. This gives them the flexibility to leverage non-structured sources of data and to re-purpose it in different ways by publishing it in different context and in different systems.

This second system will enable them to leverage the investment they made in the past, by writing all these textual documents, and to re-purpose, and re-contextualizing, them in all kind of different contexts.


I think that TribalDDB and Volkswagen make the good decision for their future. Taking the business decision to develop and maintain a completely new kind of information system is not an easy decision to take. I am not saying that they made the good choice to use our pieces of the stack. The decision goes far beyond this. Such a Semantic Platform challenges everything in an organization: the people that takes the decisions, the people that create and manage the data, the people that develop the system, the people that maintain that system, the consumers of the system, the customers, the partners, etc. This is a big decision; whatever the technology stack you plan to use. I congratulate them for the decision they took.

I strongly believe that this was the right decision to take considering the future opportunities they are creating to themselves.



UMBEL Blooms with New Colors

We are happy to announce the new, intermediary, UMBEL version 0.80. This is a major upgrade of the UMBEL ontology: both its vocabulary and its reference structure have been greatly enhanced, an upper structure called the SuperTypes has been added and everything got updated to OWL 2. You can read more about the overall changes on Mike’s blog post.

In this blog post I will focus on two topics: using some existing tools and frameworks to view and manage the reference concepts structure, and how one can use and leverage the coherency of the reference structure.

Navigating and Updating the Reference Structure

One thing that was lacking with the previous version of UMBEL was to have access to a user interface tool that would let you navigate and update the reference structure as you want. Because of the way the conceptual structure was created, it was hard for tools such as Protégé to load it because of all the individuals that were created (such as the SemSet individuals, etc.).

As stated in Mike’s blog post, we made significant changes to the UMBEL vocabulary, and how we instantiate the reference structure. Along with the OWL 2 upgrade, we made sure that the Protégé version 4.1 and the latest version of the OWLAPI could easily load both the UMBEL vocabulary and the reference structure.


One of the major additions to UMBEL v080 is the SuperTypes upper structure, an organizational layer above the UMBEL reference structure. We created these SuperTypes because we found that we could effectively cluster most UMBEL reference concepts into a small set of mostly distinct upper concepts (33 in fact, 29 of which are designed as disjoint).

This new SuperTypes structure helps us mine external sources of information by leveraging related concepts in the reference structure. Moreover, SuperTypes also help us perform easier, simpler, better and faster reasoning over the entire 21 K reference concepts structure.

Thus, SuperTypes provide a new tool to help determine if the UMBEL reference structure is consistent and coherent within itself. This is important, of course, to ensure that linkages between UMBEL and external ontologies is consistent and coherent as well.

So far, the entire reference concepts structure has been tested for its coherency according to the restrictions we defined at the level of the SuperTypes upper structure. Using different reasoners such as Pellet, Fact++ and Hermit (available by default with Protégé 4.1), we made sure that all the statements made between all the RefConcept classes and individuals, and all the statements made between these and the SuperTypes upper structure, are consistent within themselves. This method enabled us to find and fix some early assignment issues.

This new upper structure, along with its now consistent reference structure, helps provide confidence that statements based on UMBEL reference concepts are also consistent. And, all of this is made more testable by virtue of being able to use the OWL API and Protégé with its embedded reasoners.

How is Coherency Tested?

This is the core question. In fact, the more informative answer to this question will be part of a forthcoming blog post. But let’s start here.

The current way to check if the structure is coherent is by making sure that we don’t have an individual that belongs to two different SuperTypes that are stated to be disjoint. What we did with the SuperType upper structure is really simple: we categorized each and every RefConcept (using rdfs:subClassOf) under a SuperType. Most of the SuperTypes are disjoint: this means that if an individual is of rdf:type for two SuperTypes that are stated to be disjoint, then you will end-up with an incoherent structure because you are making a statement that is not permitted by the reference structure.

So, the way to check if your statements are coherent according to this structure, is to make your statements (right now, in terms of individual instantiation), and then to check using a reasoner such as Pellet. There is now a general testing structure to see if any ontology is coherent with respect to the UMBEL reference structure.

In the next blog post in this series, I will tell you how to use exactly the same method for coherency testing, but now for testing if linkages between external ontologies and the UMBEL reference structure are consistent. In that case, you will make the class-to-class assertions you want, and then you will instantiate individuals of these classes, then run the reasoner. Then, the reasoner will tell you if your ontology is still consistent according to the structure and the new statements you created.

Next Step

In parallel with these tutorials, we are also working hard on the next version of UMBEL. As outlined in the Next Changes section of the new UMBEL website, the next step is to release UMBEL v1.0, with a set of new features, before Christmas.

A New Home for UMBEL Web Services

umbel_wsEight months ago we announced the dissolution of Zitgist LLC. This event led to the creation of a sandbox to keep alive all the online assets of the company. Since this sandbox server was not owned by Structured Dynamics, it was becoming hard for us to update UMBEL and its online services. It is why we took the time to move the services back on to our new servers.

A New Home

sd_logo_260Structured Dynamics LLC now hosts a new version for the UMBEL Web services. From the main menu at the SD Web site you can access these services under the “umbel ws” menu option (you can also bookmark the Web services site at or

This move of UMBEL’s Web services to a new home will make the future upgrade of UMBEL easier, and this will make the maintenance of the Web services endpoints easier as well. With this move, I am pleased to announce the release of five initial Web services and one visualization tool:

Lookup Web Services:

Inference Engine Web Services:

SPARQL endpoint Web Service:

Visual Tool:

Note that the visual tool is using Moritz Stefaner’s Relation Browser.

Ping the Semantic Web

ptswlogo160.gifAdditionally, the Ping the Semantic Web RDF pinging service is now the property of OpenLink Software Inc. OpenLink is now hosting, maintaining and developing the service.

New release of UMBEL: v072

umbel_medium.pngI am pleased to announce that we resumed our work with UMBEL. We just released the version v0.72, which is based on the OpenCyc version 2009-01-31. This new version is intermediary and has been created mostly to check the evolution of OpenCyc vis-à-vis UMBEL. Within the next month or so, we will release a new version (v.080), which will introduce a major new concept that should help systems and users manipulating the entire UMBEL Subject Concepts structure.

For them who want to know what changed between versions v071 and v072, here is CVS file that list all the changes between the versions. There are four columns: (1) source node, (2) attribute, (3) target node and (4) version number. This file list all triples that are present in a version, but not in the other. So, you have all changes (nodes & arcs) between the two versions. Mostly all the changes come from internal changes to OpenCyc. We did fix a couple of things such as removing cycles in the graph, etc. But 99% of the changes come from changes within OpenCyc.

Finally note that the web services endpoints will be updated with this new version of UMBEL subject concepts in the coming week along with the dereferencing of their URIs. Stay tuned!

UMBEL Web Services Endpoints Released

After some delay, we are pleased to finally release the UMBEL Web services endpoints to the public. We have re-organized the Web services we introduced three months ago to add coherency and flexibility to the model.

The goal remains the same, but with a different flavor: these tools let ontologists and Web developers search, discover and use the UMBEL subject concept and named entity structures. The added flavor is that these Web services now fully embrace the HTTP 1.1 protocol and are provided via a series of well established data and serialization formats.

We now have RESTful Web services to add to our RESTful linked data. Pretty cool combination!

We are introducing two kinds of Web services: (1) atomic Web services and (2) compound Web services. An atomic Web service only performs one action: It takes some inputs and then outputs a resultset of the action. A compound Web service takes multiple atomic Web services, plugs them together in a pipeline model, and then takes some inputs and outputs a resultset arising from the compound action.

The communication between each of these Web service instances and the external World is the same: communication is governed by the HTTP 1.1 protocol. HTTP is generally RESTful and used to establish the communication, to determine mime type and serialization, to get inputs, to return status of the communication and possible errors, and to send back the resultset of the computation of the Web service.

That way, we can easily, within hours, programmatically pipeline these atomic Web services together to create new Web services. We can integrate external Web services endpoints into the same pipeline without modifying anything to the architecture. Status, errors and resultsets are propagated along the line, directly to the data consumer. This is the flexibility part of the story.

Now, how cool is that?

Overview of the UMBEL Web Services Endpoints

We are today releasing a couple of these atomic and compound Web service endpoints to the public, but others will follow in the coming weeks and months. Four families of Web services have been released that total seven Web service endpoints:

If you don’t know what UMBEL is, I would suggest you read a background information page that talks about the project.

The most important reading related to this blog post is the API philosophy documentation page that talks about the details of the design of this Web services architecture.

For Web developers that want to integrate these Web services endpoints within their application, an API documentation page explains how to communicate with these endpoints for each of the services.

Example of an Atomic Web Service

The Inference: Lister Web service is a good example of an atomic Web service. It takes a subject concept URI as the input and outputs a series of super-class-of, sub-class-of or equivalent-class-of classes for that concept. As an atomic service it does one thing and one thing only: Inferring relationships of a given subject concept URI.

Example of a Compound Web Service

The Reporter: Named Entity Web service is a good example of a compound Web service. This Web service displays full of information about a UMBEL named entity URI. However, not all the information returned by this Web service is directly computed by it. In fact, the information about broader and equivalent classes and subject concepts come from the Inference: Lister Web service. Results coming from this Web service are immediately integrated in the Reporter’s resultset. This is easily done considering that they share the same communication language (HTTP 1.1) and the same data and serialization formats (XML, RDF+XML and RDF+N3). This flexibility is priceless to quickly create resourceful compound Web services.


After some months to get the design right, we have finally released some of the UMBEL Web services to the public. These Web services can easily be integrated in current software architectures to leverage UMBEL’s vision of the World. The architecture underlying what we have released today will help to easily integrate UMBEL’s principles and concepts within new and existing projects. This will ultimately help people to quickly react to the changing World of needs and expectations of data users and consumers.

I hope you will enjoy using these new Web services, which Zitgist is freely hosting. The data you get from the Web service is open data and can be used freely with attribution.

Please do report any issues you may encounter. We also welcome any advice or suggestions that you would care to provide to enhance the overall system.

This blog is a regularly updated collection of my thoughts, tips, tricks and ideas about my semantic Web researches and related software development.

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